What a year for science fiction and fantasy books. The Quill to Live has been around for almost 8 years and I have been making these lists like clockwork for that entire span. Since I started doing this, I think 2022 is the strongest year for SFF I have ever seen. We struggled to cut down this list this year to a top 30, and even then 30 is much larger than we typically do. There is an argument to be made for any single book on this list as best of the year. The reviewers of The Quill To Live read about 150 new books this year, and we have picked out our top 20 percent. There are many fantastic books that came out this year not on the list, but we are only five people and if we made a list 50 books long no one would read it. As always, in order to get this list out in a timely manner before the end of the year, we have rolled December of 2021 into this list, and December 2022 will roll into 2023’s list. Without further ado, let’s dive into the best stories of 2022, and thank you all for joining us once again in this annual QTL tradition.
30) Hunger of the Gods by John Gwynne – John Gwynne is very much a proven quantity at this point. Every book he produces has immaculate pacing and that wonderful rare quality where you simply cannot put it down. His short chapters are addictive, his action is engrossing, and his stories are exciting. This is an amazing series that sucks you in like a whirlpool, and I have enjoyed both of the installments I have read immensely. I don’t usually go in for Norse mythology, but Gwynne is brilliant at letting the lore shine through while also shepherding it to tell a compelling story that isn’t fully reliant on the original myths. In particular, The Hunger Of The Gods is a phenomenal bridge book, and it does the specific job it was assigned very well. Hunger is a hypeman for the next act of this bloody story, and I am most definitely very hyped. There is still a little difficulty with the character development that kept Hunger from being higher on this list, but that is just a small speed bump on an otherwise perfect racetrack. As with all Gwynne novels, I started a little overwhelmed and ended up planning a trip to the UK to heist the next book manuscript from Gwynne’s home. You can find our full review here.
29) A Thousand Steps into Night by Traci Chee – This story is a great adventure through and through. The world Chee created is so vibrant and filled with amazing lore and characters. I can’t think of a point where the story lulled because the main character Miuko is constantly whisked to new adventures and meets a new, eclectic group of characters at each turn. Every one of Miuko’s encounters helps her character evolve just a bit more, challenging her and pushing her to make decisions she never expected to make. The world is so vast and unknown, and we learn alongside Miuko as she stumbles through her quest. All these pieces together make for such a rewarding story. Read A Thousand Steps into Night for a great adventure, beautiful acts of friendship, and inspiring moments of self-discovery. I guarantee you will get swept up into the world Chee created and root for Miuko and her companions every step of the way. You can find our full review here.
28) The Mountain in the Sea by Ray Nayler – Ray Nayler’s titanic debut delivers on its premise and then some. It takes the concept of communicating with another intelligent species, octopodes in this case, and shoots it to outer space. It isn’t just about translation but the nature of consciousness and brain structures as a whole. It’s written in compelling prose that invites the reader to share in the conversation instead of lecturing you about the world. Nayler teaches you things while building a compelling story about who we are as human beings. I know that’s always involved in descriptions, but Nayler actually focuses on the mechanical and ethereal elements in a grounded story about learning to connect. Definitely pick this one up if you are at all attracted by those ideas. You can find our full review here.
27) Primeval Fire by C.T. Rwizi – Scarlet Odyssey, by C.T. Rwizi, has been my ace-in-the-hole recommendation recently. I stumbled onto the first two books last year and as you can tell from my extremely high ranking of Requiem Moon on our Best Books Of 2021 List, I was impressed. I have been using the trilogy as my pocket recommendation for other well-read fantasy lovers looking for a hidden gem since. As such, Primeval Fire, the third and final book of the trilogy, was easily my most anticipated book of 2022. Fire didn’t quite live up to my sky-high expectations, but it is still a very powerful and excellent read. Rwizi is one of the great new voices of this generation of fantasy authors, and I beg him to keep writing because I need more stories from his wonderful mind. His ability to transport readers to new and interesting locations and use the history of Africa as inspiration is something the genre needs more of. You are doing yourself a disservice if you don’t check out this utterly unique science fantasy read. You can find our full review here.
26) Locklands by Robert Jackson Bennett – Locklands, the final piece of The Founders trilogy by Robert Jackson Bennett, is a story both worthy of discussion and hard to talk about. It is the last step in an increasingly complicated dance that Bennett has been leading, and it ends with a beautiful flourish. Bennett has spent the last three novels carving out elegant pieces of building materials with his magic system and stacking them up for assembly. Locklands is when it all comes together to create a spectacular masterpiece. Looking back at what the characters started with, and looking forward to where they end, I can barely contain my sense of wonder at all that Bennett has accomplished in getting from point A to B. The story is great. It combines amazing set pieces, answers to mysteries that have been percolating since book one, and one of the best fight scenes in any fantasy book I have ever read. Bennett is a king of raising the stakes the perfect amount to keep you forever on the edge of your seat. Thematically and narratively the ending is perfect. That might seem like a small thing, but endings are often the hardest thing to land in a story like this, and I would give Bennett 10 points. Locklands is a triumph and brings The Founders series home to an explosive end. With its unparalleled magic creativity, heartbreaking character stories, heartwarming messages, and satisfying ending, the book locks up another win for Bennett. You can find our full review here.
25) One Foot in the Fade by Luke Arnold – One of my big issues with cop/noir fantasy is that it all feels the same. There are variations, but each story I read seems to cover the same beats and themes, while also glorifying cops which isn’t looking so good these days. With one seeming exception. With the third and clearly not final installment of the Phillip Fetch Archives, this series has become the only fantasy cop series that I actually endorse. One Foot in the Fade is the third example that Luke Arnold is trying to do more with his series than be entertaining or edgy. They have substance, interesting commentary, and thrilling storytelling that elevate them over most of the other fantasy cop stories I have read. The real bread and butter of this series is turning out to be moral complexity. Luke Arnold is really good at presenting very unpleasant and difficult situations that don’t feel like they have a clear right choice and then deep-diving into the options and the psyche of the characters making the choice. Every decision the protagonist makes is carving off a piece of his soul and breaking a new part of him, and by book three, the fractures are clearly starting to add up. But something I really like about Arnold is that he doesn’t like to wallow in shock value or misery. His writing acknowledges the awful in the world and explores the damage it does, while simultaneously always looking for a solution and exploring a way upward. The Fetch Phillip Archives is a detective series with a lot of modern substance and sensibility. One Foot in the Fade is yet another engaging step into madness for our protagonist Fetch and his story is both hard to read and rewarding to observe. You can find our full review here.
24) The Liar’s Knot by M.A. Carrick – The Liar’s Knot, second in the Rose & Rook trilogy, is a notch above its predecessor in terms of storytelling and characterization. This is the first book I read for my 2022 year in December of 2021 and it was an absolutely fabulous place to start. This story has masquerades, political intrigue, fantasy sailor moon, love triangles where I actually like everyone involved and the choice is hard, and strange dream magic that is ephemeral and fun. I am having a very good time with everything this story is putting down. The entire narrative feels like a vivid dream sequence, which fits the setting and characters perfectly. A big part of Rook & Rose is all the secrets the characters are carrying around, and The Liar’s Knot is when some of them start coming to the surface. To say I devoured the reveals would be an understatement. I need to know more, I need to know where these people came from and where they are going. The sweet found families that suffuse the story also warm my cold wintery heart. This series is going to be one of the strongest to come out in the next few years and it was a great way to kick off my 2022 reading. Do yourself a favor and check it out. You can find our full review here.
23) Legends & Lattes by Travis Baldree – Travis Baldree’s Legends & Lattes is the type of bookish success story only possible in the social media age. As toxic and disheartening as many platforms can be, sometimes they find a true gem and hold it up so everyone can see it shine. That’s precisely what happened with Baldree’s lovely book about Viv, an Orc Barbarian who hangs up her weapons and opens a coffee shop in a medieval fantasy world. Baldree wrote the book as part of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), then self-published it. Legends & Lattes gained traction, earning attention from Seanan McGuire and many book blogs (including ours). Soon after, the publishers came a-knockin’ and Legends & Lattes was released under the Tor banner. It’s a cozy fantasy, an indie success story, and a wonderful upending of typical fantasy tropes. For all these reasons and more, it’s worth your time and easily earns its spot on our best of 2022 list. You can find our full review here.
22) Siren Queen by Nghi Vo – I will forever keep anything Nghi Vo writes at the top of my TBR because every story is unlike anything I have read before. She has captured my attention once again with her latest release, Siren Queen. This time, Vo pulls back the curtain on the glitz, glamour, and dark side of Hollywood as a woman prepares to risk it all to become a star. Vo pulls me down deep into her stories until I’m gasping for air. When I am finally able to resurface, it is a shock to interact in a world that is so plain and dull in comparison. Something I love about her worldbuilding is how the story is dripping in magic but it’s always just out of reach. It’s elusive and tantalizing, giving you a taste of its power and potential before slipping through your hands. Vo leaves me wanting more of this world, but I am utterly enchanted by her Siren Queen as she guides the reader with a gloved hand, striking a purposeful step forward in a polished high heel to show you a wicked, brilliant side of Hollywood. You can find our full review here.
21) Goliath by Tochi Onyebuchi – Onyebuchi is a must-read for me after a single novella. His first novel, Goliath, only solidifies that decision. It’s a complex read that will challenge your preconceived notions about community. Onyebuchi seems to be having a lot of fun writing large sections of the book while waiting to spring his emotional and psychological traps. It’s minimalist science fiction at its best, using the trappings and setting to tell a familiar but more inquisitive story about gentrification. It’s both grim and hopeful. It doesn’t rest until you feel uncomfortable and even then continues to push the reader past their limits. But Onyebuchi is compassionate and invites you next to the campfire as he tells his tale. It’s both entertaining and deeply discomforting. He succeeds in stepping out of the usual narrative boundaries and pulling you out of your comfort zone in so many different ways, from subject matter and themes to structural experimentation. It really is just something you have to experience yourself to appreciate and I hope you do. You can find our full review here.
20) Nettle & Bone by T. Kingfisher – T. Kingfisher’s darkness and horror in Nettle & Bone have the right amount of sting before it is soothed away with humor and plain ol’ feel-good moments. This alongside the colorful cast creates an endearing tale about the lengths one will go to for family. Kingfisher puts the focus on Marra and her relationship with an unorthodox group of rogues. Marra’s essence is captured beautifully against the backdrop of politics as her royal family plots to secure their kingdom’s future. It is amazing how well Kingfisher can set the scene and get buy-in to the world that is quickly getting built up around you. One of my favorite things about this book is that Kingfisher can make something substantial, like killing a prince, seem as trivial as swatting a fly away so we can go about enjoying the afternoon. This is the tone that Kingfisher sets and it makes Nettle absolutely delightful. You can find our full review here.
19) Leech by Hiron Ennes – Ennes’ debut is a massive win for horror, science fiction, and books in general. Ennes’ prose is fantastic, making the limited first-person perspective a truly haunting experience. Seeing the world through the eyes of a parasite—even a well-meaning one—is truly a delight in Ennes’ hands. The setting is weird and completely alive. The story is filled with twists, turns, and terrors. And don’t forget, it is chock full of that oh-so-delicious commentary fans of horror and sci-fi can both appreciate. Leech is everything I’ve wanted in gothic horror and more. It weaves a compelling tale that utilizes the genres to their fullest extent. Ennes builds on tropes in exciting ways using the characters’ strengths and realms of expertise to pick apart the mystery at the heart of the story. The perspective and its rare shifts are unique, giving the narration a zing that feels just right. All pulled together by admirable prose that is reminiscent of Poe. I was grinning through the entire read, and I’m sure you will too. Let it sink into your flesh and take over your imagination. You can find our full review here.
18) Daughter of Redwinter by Ed McDonald – If there was one book I think no one is talking about that should be boosted more, it’s Ed McDonald’s Daughter of Redwinter. I have read McDonald’s other fantasy series, Raven’s Mark, and enjoyed it immensely. There was definitely room for improvement, but the core of his last series was great (here’s our review of the first installment) and McDonald has a real talent for bringing life to dead corrupted settings. Now we have the first book in his new series. Redwinter has all the strengths of his previous writing and addresses a number of the problems that weighed down my enjoyment. All of this results in a story that is part grim fantasy, part horror, and part magical school that made a lasting positive impact. There are three strengths to Redwinter that independently bring a lot to the table: plot, characters, and chemistry. All of these flow together to craft a dark and fun book to explore. The magic school is filled with a rogues’ gallery of interesting and complicated mentors and apprentices that are all potential allies and possible suspects. I found myself obsessively examining the motives and reasoning of every character and repeatedly rebuilding my web of suspicions with each chapter. It is a maddeningly fun time, especially since the characters have a vibrant variety that makes them incredibly memorable. Daughter of Redwinter rocks. It would have earned a recommendation off of just one of its strong elements, and the combination of all of them makes it a must-read for the year. The story contained in book one of this series tells a satisfying tale from start to finish and sets up enormous potential for the rest of the series. I can’t wait to see where McDonald takes the story next. You can find our full review here.
17) Kaikeyi by Vaishnavi Patel – I don’t have a lot of experience with Indian mythology, but Kaikeyi by Vaishnavi Patel has shown me that this is a gross oversight. Kaikeyi is a poetic retelling of a popular Indian myth. Patel uses stunning prose to tell a story that investigates ideas around feminism, parenting, culture, and societal change. Because I am unfamiliar with the myth, I can’t tell how much came from the original mythos and how much comes from Patel’s brilliant mind. Regardless, the finished product is a beautiful book and easily made one of our top picks for the year. This is a story about beautiful writing and hard questions. It is rare to experience a book that provided me with as many challenging questions as this one does. Nothing in this tale is cut and dry, and there are a number of very stressful situations that our characters find themselves in with no clear answer. Some of these include power and the responsibility that comes with it, the pursuit of happiness vs. what you owe the world, how to use status and power to make the world a better place, feminism vs. individualism in a complicated society, and how to handle it when the child you raise is a bad person. As a protagonist, Kaikeyi is a wonderfully complex character that I wish I could read more about. The only thing keeping this book so low on our list is I wish it was longer. There was so much more I wanted to see. Regardless, Kaikeyi is a beautiful and evocative tale that focuses on interesting conflicts that capture both the imagination and intellect. Vaishnavi Patel has real talent as an author and is one of the best new voices of the year. I hope she continues to bring more Indian myths and more to life with her skill. You can find our full review here.
16) Babel by R.F. Kuang – Alright, so I am a little late to the party here but better late than never. I only read Babel last week, so we don’t even have a review of it yet (it’s coming). With the fact that every person I know with vocal cords is saying you should read it, I figured it was getting enough coverage. Turns out Babel’s vocal supporters have great taste. Babel is a strange book that feels part story and part manifesto. Usually, I don’t go in for this style of storytelling, but Kuang’s ability to package and displace a certain form of righteous indignation is quite impressive. Babel really encapsulates the ideas of human selfishness, greed, and the ability to look away from misery when it doesn’t hurt the looker. It also does a fabulous job of summarizing just how much the British were messing up the world in the 1800s and the damage colonization can do. This is not a happy and uplifting book, but not every book needs to be. Sometimes it’s nice to have a book remind you that there are wrongs in the world and make you more conscious about helping in any way you can.
15) The City Inside by Samit Basu – The City Inside is a short but brilliant book that spoke to me this year. It explores the evolving future of India and examines how techno-futurism and social media might change in India’s unique cultural basin. It challenges current global trends and takes a hard look at our future under climate change and increasing societal inequity. But most importantly, it examines some possible solutions to the collapse of society as we know it that feel like they might make positive change without being naively optimistic. While Babel just made me depressed, The City Inside made me sad in my favorite way to be sad—the way that pushes me to think more and be more present in my life. Samit Basu has a keen mind with a talent for societal observation, wonderful prose, and a fast-paced and direct style of storytelling that doesn’t miss the details but gets right to the point. I wish there was a little bit more of it, the ending is slightly abrupt (though I enjoy it and its theatric flare). All put together it is worth your time, give this book a read. At only 200 pages it is a solid investment of time that feels like looking into a portal into our possible near feature. You can find our full review here.
14) Speaking Bones by Ken Liu – It’s hard to summarize the feelings I get when looking at the Dandelion Dynasty series, which has now drawn to a close with Speaking Bones. The series is so tragically underread and yet monumental in its accomplishments that I feel like I am watching a private showing of some massive stage production. As I get older every year and have to balance life, my infant daughter, and reading for The Quill I find myself migrating away from massive deck-thumping series that require a lot of work. Yet, having read Speaking Bones this year I find myself pining for more big books and thinking about how I can fit more of them in next year. Ken Liu has so much packed into these books. Plot after subplot like a thousand strands in a beautiful tapestry all weaving towards an elegant and well-managed ending that left me deeply satisfied. We don’t see a lot of silkpunk stories, which is a shame because I greatly enjoyed this one and it seems like a barely tapped sub-genre. Speaking Bones is also just weird in the best way possible. This is true about all books in the series, but Bones really dials it up. The prose and structure of the storytelling are just very different from your typical epic fantasy and I am assuming that comes from Liu’s blending of Chinese and American storytelling into a unique concoction wholly his own, but this is just a supposition on my part. The worldbuilding is certainly some of the most unhinged, fun, and ridiculous I have read in a science-fantasy book. Its original narrative structure, exploration of technology, heavy themes, and momentous characters have cemented the Dandelion Dynasty as one of the best things I have read in years. Despite the series being over 4,000 pages long, you owe it to yourself to check it out yourself. You can find our full review here.
13) Fevered Star by Rebecca Roanhorse – I never managed to find the right words to review Fevered Star this year. Part of this is because Star is the second book in a series that is absolutely best going in blind. The other part is that I couldn’t find anything eloquent to say about this book that wasn’t “yes, I loved this fabulous story exactly as much as Black Sun for all the same reasons.” The Between Earth and Sky series is one of the best examples of modern storytelling I have read. It is a new take to me, not noticeably derived from past novels, and relying primarily on lore and Roanhorse’s imagination for inspiration—and what an imagination it is. The book is fittingly diverse, with a huge range of representations that welcomes every reader. Its inclusive nature is reflected in its themes, and it contains a handful of beautiful quiet moments of love that blossom up like resilient plants through the cracks of a concrete jungle of terror. The series balances startling beauty with shocking violence to make both more narratively impactful and its multiple protagonists manage to walk four very different paths hand in hand toward the same North Star. The challenges the characters face interest me, pulling me into their shoes and helping me immerse in the setting and narrative. This series is easy to fall in love with and hard to pull out of. Go check it out for yourself.
12) A Half-Built Garden by Ruthanna Emrys – Emrys dazzled me with a future worth thinking about in this first contact story that seriously tackles climate change. She imagines a world where the structures of power are entirely different, filled with characters you want to be friends with. It’s a slow burn that engages with the kind of work that needs to be done to win the future for generations. Its narrative style both functions as a story and a manifesto of sorts. It is chock full of imagination and succeeds at making the reader consider an alternative way of engaging with the world and the people you share your life with. This is exactly the book it needs to be. Not only does it make a great story, but it also creates something people desperately need right now, an outline of a future. It doesn’t fall into hubris trying to be the future and instead provides that oh-so-sumptuous horizon. Emrys doesn’t tell us how to get there, only gives us a glimpse beyond the blinding sun. We still have to walk towards, maybe even run to it, but something else could be there than what we fear. So put on your sunscreen, don your sunglasses and walk deliberately into the light. If you are craving a climate fiction novel, this is for you. Also, more talking spiders, please. You can find our full review here.
11) August Kitko and the Mechas from Space by Alex White – Music, mecha, and mayhem combine in an explosive action-packed dystopian science fiction novel in White’s new series. We are big fans of White from their first trilogy, The Salvagers, and The Starmetal Symphony has continued to raise their stakes in our eyes. Something I really enjoyed about White’s first few books is that there was a measurable improvement in writing quality, pacing, and plotting as they got more experience. Now, on their fourth book, White is just on a roll like an out-of-control party bus stuffed full of musical talent. The characters in this book are diverse, vibrant, and loud. Every single character’s voice is clear and memorable and the varied personalities have excellent chemistry. The book sucker-punches you with the fact that everything comes together and is going places. Set pieces that initially feel anime-esk in a sorta “We did it because it was cool and no other reason,” slowly all come together and reveal some nice meaty themes and ideas underneath. All of these different elements come together to make a book that is loud, exciting, vivid, and original. Accept that the start is going to be a bit crazy, fitting a party to celebrate the end of everything, and you will find yourself having a very good time. You can find our full review here.
10) The Art of Prophecy by Wesley Chu – Wesley Chu’s The Art of Prophecy is the first installment in The War Arts Saga and one of the best books I’ve read this year. The story is action-packed and follows intensely dynamic characters you can’t help but root for even though they are on opposite sides. The three strong, female leads are the main attraction. Taishi, Salminde, and Qisami have entirely different attitudes, fighting styles, and upbringings. However, one characteristic they share is that they absolutely do not give a fuck, and it makes for fun times. Chu also did a fabulous job building this complicated story. He expertly showcased the world in broad strokes while focusing on the granular elements that gave the characters and story substance. This story is clever, powerful, and dark. It also has brilliant moments of levity and humor that delighted me every time. I am in awe of how entertaining this book was. It is setting itself up to be a great series, and I can’t wait to see how the story progresses. You can find our full review here.
9) The Martyr by Anthony Ryan – If we had an award for “best vibes” of the year, that trophy would soundly sit in the hands of The Martyr for 2022. Never have I read a book that personifies the idea of being in over one’s head better than this one. The sequel to The Pariah, Ryan’s second Covenant of Steel installment uses the foundation of book one to surpass it in every regard. There is an aura of tension and unease that just exudes from The Martyr. This is one of the best examples of a house of cards I have ever read, and there are so many breezes that threaten to knock it down. Our protagonist’s frantic desperate energy is infectious and made me extremely agitated in a deeply unpleasant yet incredibly impressive manner. No one is safe, everything is a lie, and the name of the game is constant, extreme stress. Every moment in this book feels like an itch you can’t scratch, a sword dangling by a thread over your head and a slowly rising water as you stand in an enclosed space. It is such a wonderfully stressful experience and I really recommend it to all of you. In addition, Ryan’s prose and action scenes are a cut above (as usual). There are many battles and fights in The Martyr, and all of them stand out as some of the best kicking, punching, and stabbing of the year. You can find our full review here.
8) Eyes of the Void by Adrian Tchaikovsky – Fresh off the end of my favorite space opera, The Expanse, a new giant sci-fi political thriller has appeared to fill the void. With two very strong novels out so far, The Final Architecture is a series that packs so much content into its many pages that it overflows like an endless chalice. I find myself still thinking about my read months later. In many ways, my thoughts on Eyes boil down to “yeah, this still slaps.” Shards of Earth was one of our top books last year, and the trend has continued. The cast is still best in class, with each faction being stuffed to the gills with colorful protagonists, antagonists, and supporting characters. There is an awesome amount of character evolution in the second book as Tchaikovsky tracks the expansion of more than a dozen changing character identities. The world is still very fleshed out and filled with eldritch horrors that baffle the imagination. The plot is compelling and the mysteries beg to be solved. Tchaikovsky knows what he is doing, and I am convinced that this will be the next big science fiction thing and it will probably get some sort of massive adaptation. Come enjoy all the pieces of this massive puzzle with me. You can find our full review here.
7) The Thousand Eyes by A.K. Larkwood – The Thousand Eyes, by A.K. Larkwood, is a masterpiece of storytelling that forges a path uniquely its own while also hitting upon a number of my favorite features in my top books. On top of being just an absolutely fabulous read, it is a monument to love and relationships (romantic, familial, and platonic). This is a book about the lengths that people will go to to protect and cherish the people they care about, the dangers of affection clouding our judgment, and the difficult choice of thinking with your heart vs. thinking with your head. It also closes out a fabulous duology (I think) and follows an equally fantastic book, The Unspoken Name. At its core, The Thousand Eyes is a tragedy about the nature of how change affects relationships. The story, both through its ideas and prose, is beautiful and haunting, and the characters emotionally resonated with me. All of the characters have this wonderful complexity that just begs to be explored. Gaining insight into the heads of the larger cast also does a lot to expand on the events of the first book. This is not a simple story of good vs. evil, the characters are as interesting and nuanced as the people you will find in your own life. In multiple sections of the story, I found myself just holding my wife’s hand as she slept and crying as heartache and love washed over me. Larkwood’s narrative style is simultaneously compelling and minimalist. She favors atmosphere and vibes over logistics and minutia in her settings. This means that the worldbuilding is “lighter” in a way that feels freeing. It allows Larkwood to pack an absolutely enormous amount of story into a book that is only 400 pages long. Yet, even though her style bursts free of the trappings of dense and overwhelming worldbuilding, Larkwood’s world is one of the most exciting I have ever visited. You can find our full review here.
6) Aspects by John M. Ford – Aspects is likely our most controversial pick on this list this year, but I stand by the choice. What I found is easily one of the most beautiful and best books of the year, despite its unfinished format, and now I find myself looking to read the entirety of Ford’s catalog of stories. Aspects is an incredibly moving slice-of-life story about two members of a fictional fantasy parliament going about their lives that will shatter your heart into a million pieces with its poetic prose, wonderful individuals, and somber observations about the world we live in. The story starts with a duel, moves into an intense parliamentary debate, and then shifts to a countryside vacation at a villa. Throughout all of this, we are introduced to a kaleidoscope of individuals who help keep Ford’s magical world running. Despite a lack of an urgent plot, the poetic exploration of the ideas of love, friendship, purpose, responsibility, and more just seeps out of every page in a way that makes the entire thing engaging and easy to read. I am not usually one for poetry, but dear god does the prose of this book reach into your soul and drag out the reverence. The characters are so wonderfully complex. Their flaws are deeply explored, to the point where I began to question whether they truly were flaws. I even found my own perspectives, on others and myself, shifting as I read. It is a magical story that is tragically cut short yet still unbelievably wonderful to read despite the lack of closure. The book surprisingly doesn’t suffer much without its back fifth. Plotlines start and conclude constantly throughout the story, so while there are a few loose ends when we arrive at the end, the real upsetting fact is that there isn’t more book to enjoy. Yet, just because there is no closure shouldn’t keep you from enjoying the magic pages that do exist. You can find our full review here.
5) Moon Witch, Spider King by Marlon James – James’s sequel to Black Leopard, Red Wolf is a tour de force. I don’t think I’ve ever written that phrase, but there really is no other way to describe it. Sogolon’s story supplements James’ world while existing as its own wholly separate thing. It is full of emotion, both in the events of the story and Sogolon’s voice in the written word. It sucks you in and does not let go until the very end. James is also clever in his portrayal of the story, utilizing the “man writes woman’s story” trope to effective and brutal ends. If you were iffy on the first book, Moon Witch is a completely different animal that clarifies the events of Black Leopard while building its own view of the world Sogolon and Tracker inhabit. It’s not a one-to-one portrayal of the same events and creates an even broader story. It’s also just fun to see some of the characters through another’s eyes, especially with the colorful commentary provided by Sogolon. It still has the same dreamlike prose, but it feels sharper, and more tangible even though it remains just as ethereal. Run, don’t walk, to this book. You won’t regret it. You can find our full review here.
4) Daughter of the Moon Goddess / Heart of the Sun Warrior by Sue Lynn Tan – Sue Lynn Tan has blessed us twice this year. She made an incredible debut in January with Daughter of the Moon Goddess. Then Tan capped the year with the duology’s heart-wrenching conclusion in Heart of the Sun Warrior. Tan’s novels can be described as nothing short of beautiful as they honor and expand upon the legend of Chang’e. Tan enchanted me with her beautiful stories and brought a fresh perspective through Xingyin’s exciting adventure. The world is large and magical and rich in Chinese mythology. I love how Tan uses mythology to examine the featured immortals on a personal level, peeling back the surface of these powerful stories and showing us real people living with the consequences. The Celestial Kingdom duology is phenomenal. It has unique characters, intricate storytelling, strong worldbuilding, and a beautiful romance to boot. You can find our full review here.
3) All the Seas of the World by Guy Gavriel Kay – Every year that Kay puts out a book he usually makes it into our top 5 of the year. All the Seas of the World is a hauntingly thoughtful tale about the nature of home, exile, and finding a place of belonging. It eschews a more centralized focus that some of his other books have in favor of an anthological story with a multitude of viewpoints that all center around how people cope with being displaced.The prose, as always, is astoundingly powerful. I always underestimate Kay’s ability to devastate the reader emotionally with a single sentence. He is probably my favorite writer aesthetically, bar none. Kay’s way of bringing focus to the small things in life never ceases to amaze. My favorite passage of the book is a simple line between two characters with little connection on how you never know when it might be the last time you see someone due to lives diverging. Seas is one of those rare books that makes you more present in your life and causes you to think more deeply about those around you. I found myself calling old friends and rebuilding connections that had loosened due to the pandemic thanks to this book. It has very quickly become my favorite book about what “home” means and helped me be more appreciative of the home I have and more empathetic toward those who have lost their own. It’s a glacier of a book, slow-moving and beautiful in its majestic splendor. I very much recommend you check it out. You can find our full review here.
2) Leviathan Falls by James S.A. Corey – We were so close to putting a book published in December of 2021 as our best book of 2022 but eventually settled on second place. The story of The Expanse finally ends with several bangs and not a single whimper. Concluding a nine-book series is no easy feat, but the team of Franck and Abraham was more than up to the task. Leviathan Falls is a monument to everything great in one of the best science fiction series ever written with one of the best endings to a long-running series I have ever read. With so much of this series about character growth, the passage of time, change, and choices, it was magical to see where we finally ended up. As always, Leviathan Falls tells its own excellent self-contained story while also capping off the greater series with brilliant choreography. I cannot believe I am saying goodbye to these characters I adore and whom I have been reading about for the last ten years, almost the entire time I have been running this site. The author duo never dropped the ball once, and this series will forever remain one of The Quill to Live’s easiest recommendations to anyone and everyone. You can find our full review here.
1) The Spear Cuts Through Water by Simon Jimenez – This was the hardest year yet to pick a top book, but our editors eventually agreed to give it to the amazing Simon Jimenez for The Spear Cuts Through Water. Much like Hollywood loves movies about movies, it’s hard not to love stories about storytelling. It is a tale that explores the ideas of family, self-identity, determinism, growth, evil, duty, the concept of the passage of time, and more. The narrative structure of the story is utterly unique, and anyone who likes new takes on how a story is told will find themselves immensely satisfied. The worldbuilding has a focus on whimsy and soft handwaving while still feeling very realized and meaty. The setting pulls you in and invests you in the tale to the point where the stakes feel very real and the tragedies very tragic. Jimenez is one of the best writers I have read at using juxtaposition to powerful effect. This shows up in places where he pairs humor and despair to make both sharper, or when he casually unveils extreme violence to sicken the reader with a character’s indifference. All of it has a cumulative effect of making Spear feel smart, introspective, and emotionally moving, and there is little more I can ask from a book. Really, I could go on and on about the little things that make The Spear Cuts Through Water special, but I feel like all I really need to say is that this book slapped me awake hard. It is the kind of story that makes you sit up and pay attention to every word. It makes you feel things, good and bad, and then helps you explore what those feelings mean and how you feel about those feelings. The prose is downright poetic and those who love the written word can get lost in the beautiful script that flows from Jimenez’s pen. The ideas are original and represent an experience that you aren’t going to get anywhere else. And all of this comes in a standalone novel that needs no elaboration. Go check it out. You can find our full review here.
-A note from the QTL team. Happy 2022, and we wish you the best of all holidays from our families to yours. We typically do not ask our readers for assistance in promoting our work, but as we spend an enormous amount of time working on our end-of-year wrap-up, shares and posts of this list are greatly appreciated. We hope you have a wonderful 2022 and we look forward to showing you our new list next year!